Building a Bullpen, 2019 edition

Sandy Leon Trotsky

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So I’m starting to lean towards Craig coming back being more likely than not. Here’s my thinking and I’m curious as to how others see things. It seems as though us and the Phillies are the only teams that have showed any legitimate interest in our bird-posed, bearded warrior of the 9th as his market never quite seemed to develop.

Initial asks of 6/100+ gave way to the 5/90~ range with speculation that the Red Sox would be interested in a reunion at somewhere around 4/70. My concern, as Craig’s chief cheerleader, was that the Phillies losing out on Machado, which it appears they’re going to, would lead to a re-allocation of funds towards Dirty Craig in an offer that Boston couldn’t match or beat.

Now here’s why my opinion has slipped into “I think him coming back is more likely than not.” territory for the first time this offseason:

The Phillies are being linked to Dallas Keuchel but are apparently unwilling to go 5 years. My guess is that if they’re not willing to go 5 years for the best starter left on the market then they’re not going to go that far for a closer. I think any offers made by us and the Phils are likely to be close and, at that point, I think the advantage lies with the team he’s played the last three seasons and just won a ring with.

My prediction: Craig Kimbrel returns to the Red Sox on a 4 year, 70-75 million dollar deal that has some sort of vesting option that could push it to 5/85-90.
I hate to say I hope not... but I actually hope not. And for me, it wasn't just his entire playoff performance... it was of course that, but combined with his playoff performance in 2017, and his downtrend this past complete season and his seasonal downtrend towards the end of the year. I'd prefer just a one year offer and that's it. My feelings are that he's going to continue to trend downwards, while for '19 it'll be fine, but for '20 it'll start getting ugly. A "prove it" one year deal that would synch up with when Sale, Porcello, X and JDM and JBJ are all free agents at the end (along with Sandoval's money finally coming off the books) makes sense. If he's dominant but the Sox aren't looking to be a contender, he could be spun off for prospects along with Sale and JBJ (getting hypothetical... not advocating). Or if he's dominant the Sox can look to considering him again. But absolutely please nothing more than a 2 year deal!
 

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The only major difference between pre-ASB Kimbrel and post-ASB Kimbrel was his walk rate. His BAA, H/9, and K/9 were almost the same. His BB/9 was nearly double. I don't know if he was tipping or he had mechanical issues, but this seems like it should be fixable. Overall, his second half demise has been greatly overstated, and I think that the Sox are clearly a better team with him. I want him back.

Having said that, I'd have trouble feeling comfortable with more than a three year contract, maybe with a vesting option. With all the late inning relievers still on the market, I'd like DD to play this just like he did with JDM last year. Don't be in a rush and let the numbers come to you.
 

Red(s)HawksFan

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With all the late inning relievers still on the market, I'd like DD to play this just like he did with JDM last year. Don't be in a rush and let the numbers come to you.
Given Dombrowski's three year track record as the decision maker for the Red Sox roster, you're likely to get your wish on this.

Significant off-season moves by Dombrowski...
2015-2016: Kimbrel trade on November 13, Young signed December 2, Price signed December 4, Smith trade on December 7

2016-2017: Sale trade and Thornburg trade on December 6, Moreland signed on December 7, Buchholz traded away on December 15

2017-2018: Moreland re-signed December 18, Nunez re-signed on February 18, Martinez signed on February 26.

Nothing of significance between Christmas and President's Day. He either gets business done early or he waits out the market with no in between. So it would seem either Dombrowski is done or he will be picking off a couple bargains (relative to initial expectations) by waiting out the market like he did with Martinez. Kimbrel could end up being one of them.
 

Al Zarilla

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This is about Cora a bit as well as the bullpen. MLB Network was showing some post World Series clips of their “forum” or table of commentators they had after each game, the table being right on the field. Mark DeRosa was talking about the big Achilles heel the Red Sox had going into the postseason, the bullpen. “What’s the bridge to Kimbrel” and all that. DeRosa said Cora actually called him and said “what, you don’t trust it, just wait and watch.” Turned out to be a best case ever Kelly and super reliever Eovaldi, some Price and Sale, et al, of course. What the hell, do we have a cocky, as well as a brilliant push all the right buttons manager on our hands in Alex Cora? I don’t mind a Sparky Anderson or John McGraw type. Just keep winning, baby.
 
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Al Zarilla

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That wont work in the regular season, though, where you have many fewer off days and your starters can't come in relief.
True. I was more passing on about Cora calling an MLBN guy and basically saying wait and see. Shows a lot of confidence, conviction, guts, whatever on the part of Cora. Usually managers are tight-lipped about the future, not wanting anything to blow up in their face. Still learning about Cora, but, for me, he’s checking more and more boxes.

Back to the relievers thread.
 

Plympton91

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Have to think Smith has the inside track to claiming Kelly’s spot in the pen, and much more likely we are signing one reliever.
He’s pitched 20 innings in 3 years and is coming off a labrum injury. He’s even less likely to be of any use than Thornburg is. I’d think there’s a good chance he starts the year on the DL.
 

Red(s)HawksFan

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Have to think Smith has the inside track to claiming Kelly’s spot in the pen, and much more likely we are signing one reliever.
I don't think Smith should be counted on for anything in 2019 and therefore shouldn't change anything in terms of what else Dombrowski may do with regard to the bullpen. Smith has thrown a total of 23.2 innings over the last three seasons and is coming off serious shoulder surgery. Anything he has to give should be treated as a bonus.
 

E5 Yaz

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Have to think Smith has the inside track to claiming Kelly’s spot in the pen, and much more likely we are signing one reliever.
If theyactually had that much faith in him, it wouldn't be a minor-league deal
 

Van Everyman

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Plus, wasn’t he supposedly pissed that the team overused him when he was coming back last spring? Color me a bit surprised by this.
 

Red(s)HawksFan

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They may have been the only team to offer him even this much. I don’t know, just throwing that possibility out there.
I bet you're right. There was a dispute that played out in the press. Smith told a reporter that he thought over-use contributed to his shoulder injury rather than just the slamming of his glove in the dugout. Cora disagreed when asked but it never really went any further. I took the fact that the Sox outrighted him rather than released him to mean they were willing to have him back but since he declined the assignment and elected to become a free agent, he wanted out. That he's back seems to suggest there weren't any other takers for him, which is a bit surprising.
 

soxin6

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Have to think Smith has the inside track to claiming Kelly’s spot in the pen, and much more likely we are signing one reliever.
He is much more likely to never pitch another inning for the Red Sox than he is to take Kelly's spot. He had little before the shoulder injury last season and now he is coming off of a labrum injury. If the Sox get any useful innings out of him, I will be surprised.
 

Red(s)HawksFan

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I would think any player who spent even a day on the 25-man roster (or called up to the expanded roster after September 1) likely gets a share of some kind, but I very much doubt someone that never makes the 40-man during the year is considered for a share. It's all voted on by the players on the post-season roster, so they could conceivably give shares to anybody.

The Sox this year voted 66 full shares (~$416K each), partial shares that totaled 10.025 full shares, and eight cash awards. They used 44 players during the season. That plus coaches and training staff probably accounts for nearly all the full shares.
 

donchoi

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Cody Allen seems like a good buy low candidate this offseason. He had pretty bad command issues this past year (4.43 BB/9, 1.48 HR/9), but those are WAY beyond off his career and 3-year averages. He's only 30 and has still got FB velocity. People are predicting 2-3 years at $9m/year, which seems really reasonable compared to the numbers being thrown around for some of these other (older) relievers.

I think we'd need him AND someone else, but I'd like to see the Sox land him. Didn't watch the Indians last year, but any reason NOT to sign this guy?
 

dynomite

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I think we'd need him AND someone else, but I'd like to see the Sox land him. Didn't watch the Indians last year, but any reason NOT to sign this guy?
I think buying low and collecting talent (especially those without a QO) is a smart way to build good bullpens, but there are definite red flags with Allen.

His velocity is on a 6-year decline, his xFIP is on a 4-year trend in the wrong direction, and his spin rate was down last year too. He’s a fly ball reliever so he’s tough to bring in with guys on base. Perhaps most worrying, he’s a two pitch pitcher who lives on his curveball, and after years of throwing some of the most (and best) curveballs in the league, that pitch was bad for him this year (the pitch value was -2, after four years at 6+).

If there’s something mechanical the Sox can fix with his curveball, that could be intriguing. And again, the price could be right here. But he’s a risk at this point.
 

Savin Hillbilly

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The wrong side of the bridge....
I think buying low and collecting talent (especially those without a QO) is a smart way to build good bullpens, but there are definite red flags with Allen.

His velocity is on a 6-year decline, his xFIP is on a 4-year trend in the wrong direction, and his spin rate was down last year too. He’s a fly ball reliever so he’s tough to bring in with guys on base. Perhaps most worrying, he’s a two pitch pitcher who lives on his curveball, and after years of throwing some of the most (and best) curveballs in the league, that pitch was bad for him this year (the pitch value was -2, after four years at 6+).

If there’s something mechanical the Sox can fix with his curveball, that could be intriguing. And again, the price could be right here. But he’s a risk at this point.
All of this. I think Allen's pitch data shout "needs a new pitch"--maybe a cutter or a slider. But whatever it is he needs to do by way of adjustment, I'd rather someone else pay him to do it, unless he's available later in the winter on a pillow-contract basis.
 

Danny_Darwin

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I guess we'll never really know the extent of their interest, but color me a little surprised that Boston didn't try to top that. Maybe they really do plan to mostly stand pat? Or maybe they're taking the "go big or go home" approach, and don't see Robertson as enough of an upgrade over what's already there. I guess we'll find out when Kimbrel and Ottavino sign somewhere.
 

Minneapolis Millers

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Does this take Philly out of the running for the remaining top relievers? I suppose any team can jump up and decide to buy two $10M plus arms for the bullpen, but the vast majority won't. NY seems to be focusing in on bringing back Britton. The Braves are looking but at what $ amount? Colorado would like to resign Ottavino but it sure seems like they want a relatively low $ deal.

DD might be reading this market exactly right. It wouldn't stun me if they can end up bringing Kimbrel back for no more than $14M/yr and 3 years. Or they get Ottavino for the same kind of 2 yrs+ deals that Miller and Robertson got, but at less per year (because he's not a Prove Closer).
 

SouthernBoSox

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He's absolutely reading it right. Its reliever musical chairs. He's going to get someone below market.
 

chawson

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DD might be reading this market exactly right. It wouldn't stun me if they can end up bringing Kimbrel back for no more than $14M/yr and 3 years. Or they get Ottavino for the same kind of 2 yrs+ deals that Miller and Robertson got.
Decent chance he gets Joe Kelly’s production out of Putnam+Smith as well.
 

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I think Ottavino will expect to be paid in the same ballpark as Miller & Robertson. The “proven closer” tag is basically a worthless talking point in sports radio, and he would be willing to pitch as a relief ace, rather than only on the 9th inning with a lead. Kimbrel is going to set the top of the market, but Ottavino will benefit from the scarcity of being the only non-Kimbrel option remaining.

Edit: I’m forgetting Britton as another comparable relief option, so we’ll see how much supply and demand affect the market overall. If the Sox are going to sign any reliever it will push them past the Tax threshold, so at that point I’d like to see them secure a second reliever as well to spread the risk. I’m not sure I see DD signing Kimbrel + 1, but maybe Ottavino + Britton?
 
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Adrian's Dome

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DD isn't going to set the market, and Robertson wasn't willing to wait around and potentially be left as the guy without a seat at the table.

We will get our guy(s), but DD is playing his cards right by waiting to capitalize on better deals than paying premiums and setting the baseline.
 

Rough Carrigan

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DD isn't going to set the market, and Robertson wasn't willing to wait around and potentially be left as the guy without a seat at the table.

We will get our guy(s), but DD is playing his cards right by waiting to capitalize on better deals than paying premiums and setting the baseline.
Was Robertson really setting the baseline? He's a little different commodity than Britton or Ottavino. He's established a baseline of performance that isn't as good as Britton at his peak but is a hell of a lot better than injured/ineffective Britton. And he got $11.5 million per year for 2 years (if you include the $2 million buyout of the third year). His contract before this was 4 years and $46 million, the same rate.
We paid Kimbrel $13.25 million and $13.0 million the last two years. Kenley Jansen got paid $11.8 million and $12.3 million the last two years. Next year his contract jumps up to $19 million per year.

Andrew Miller got paid $9 million per year the last two years and he was a very highly paid setup guy/non-closer.

Robertson's contract looks pretty reasonable for a closer but expensive if he's a setup guy.
 

Plympton91

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The bullpen right now is not even as good as the 2013 Tigers. You simply don’t build the back of a pen around guys coming off partial seasons due to Thoracic Outlet, Labrum, and elbow injuries. And right now, the back of the Sox pen is Matt Barnes and cannon fodder.

DD is probably right to be playing a waiting game on this market, and if the budget is there they should get one of Britton/Ootavino tier and one from the Tony Sipp / Brad Brach tier, both on nice palatable deals. I just hope the budget is there, because they absolutely need to sign two relievers projected to be better than Brasier’s projection, which is eerily similar to Heath Hembree’s in ZiPS. They are middle men, not set up men.
 

StuckOnYouk

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Who are the big 3 left - Kimbrel, Britton and Ottavino?
If we are going to pass the second threshold anyway for one more year why not spend 50 mil combined over a two year period on Britton and ottavino?
That would leave the Yankees with just the crumbs left as Kimbrel won’t go there
 

jon abbey

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Who are the big 3 left - Kimbrel, Britton and Ottavino?
If we are going to pass the second threshold anyway for one more year why not spend 50 mil combined over a two year period on Britton and ottavino?
That would leave the Yankees with just the crumbs left as Kimbrel won’t go there
Britton is going to take a three year deal (he has been pushing for four according to reports, he is a Boras guy) and maybe Ottavino too, I think the combo will get closer to $80M than $50M.
 

StuckOnYouk

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Yowser....did not realize he was a Boras guy. 4 year deal? He's still very good but he was a far cry from his 2016 dominance.
 

Jefferson Durand

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Wouldn't be surprised if we settle for below-market deals with Cody Allen and Kevin Herrera. Then they pray the duct tape holds until July, and assess what's on the market. I know DD gets beat to death over bullpen construction, but we're pretty hamstrung by the financial constraints. We also just won a World Series with Kimbrel falling apart at the seams....On paper, going into the year, if you scratched him off the playoff roster (which I'm sure many of us would consider retroactively) how bad would that group look? Furthermore, the "best" closer in the game was on no one's radar at the beginning of the season (Diaz). Entirely possible a non-contending team produces a shut-down guy worth plucking.
 

jon abbey

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Furthermore, the "best" closer in the game was on no one's radar at the beginning of the season (Diaz).
He was a huge prospect and in his third season as closer at 24, he took a jump forward but he was on everyone's radar already.
 

Dewey'sCannon

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DD would obviously like to stay below the highest CBT threshold. But I think this is not just to avoid the tax and penalties for exceeding it again, because I doubt ownership has given him any such mandate. I think it's maybe not as much about 2019 as it is maintaining payroll flexibility for 2020 and 2021 - giving a big four or five year deal to Kimbrel limits what he can offer to the FAs coming up in the next two years. And he may think, or hope, that use of the internal bullpen options will be a better use of resources, if not for 2019 then for the following years, when Feltman and Lakins could make significant contributions. Or he'd rather see how think shake out before making a commitment that he knows will limit his future options.

So that leads me to wonder whether DD may try to snag one of these guys on a one-year deal with a big AAV. For Kimbrel, it would probably mean at least $18m, so that it exceeds the QO he turned down. I wonder if he would consider that, if the market continues to be slow and the best he can do is a three or four year deal at $13-14m per year. It would let him re-establish his value after a (relatively speaking) down year, and he would not be burdened by a QO next year. Or maybe 2/34?

I really think it's the number of years, more so than AAV, that may be DD's big concern.
 

charlieoscar

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Would Kimbrel, at his age, be willing to gamble on a one-year contract? Word was he wanted a 6-year contract, which would provide him with security if his game went downhill. If a team dumped him, they'd have to pay him. They could have a buy-out clause but that would be expensive (and frankly I have no idea how that is handled with regards to the tax threshold).
 

Minneapolis Millers

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Would Kimbrel, at his age, be willing to gamble on a one-year contract? Word was he wanted a 6-year contract, which would provide him with security if his game went downhill. If a team dumped him, they'd have to pay him. They could have a buy-out clause but that would be expensive (and frankly I have no idea how that is handled with regards to the tax threshold).
I doubt he'd do this. Instead, I think he would look for a 3-year deal with opt-outs (ins) after year 1 and 2. Let him reassess the market each year but still give him some security against injury or a downturn in performance.
 

Red(s)HawksFan

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I think it's still way too early for Kimbrel to be considering a one year deal. There's still six weeks to go before it gets to be panic time. Someone will sign him to multiple years, it's just a matter of him coming down off the 5-6 year contract demands. He may not have been at his best in the second half last year, but he's still one of the best relievers in the game.
 

Dewey'sCannon

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I wasn't really suggesting that Kimbrel should be looking to accept a one-year deal at this point - I agree that it's a bit early for that. But I was saying that might be what DD might be most interested in offering. I don't see that offering opt-out(s) fits the Sox' interests in terms of preserving future payroll flexibility, and the Speir article about pitching development also underscores why they may be comfortable with going with cheaper alternatives for the bullpen.

So I was asking whether Kimbrel might consider this IF the best offer he can get is something like 4/60, or 3/45-50. At that point, would he consider 1/20 or 2/35 instead?

We've already seen Donaldson take 1/23 on a similar bet-on-himself deal. So I think it becomes a legitimate question if the long-term offers he's looking for don't materialize.